Our gracious hostess, Karen, has offered to host my review of Ann Aguirre’s Grimspace which will be released on Feb 26th by Ace. I was lucky to win an ARC and read it before the general public and, people, I love it! Love it, love it, love it!
So without further ado, here it is:
Grimspace, by Ann Aguirre
This science fiction/fantasy/adventure/romance novel is Ann Aguirre’s print debut. However, she already has four titles published electronically under her Annie Dean pseudonym.
From the back cover:
By all accounts, Sirantha Jax should have burned out years ago…
As the carrier of a rare gene, Jax has the ability to jump ships through Grimspace—a talent which cuts into her life expectancy, but makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. But then the ship she’s navigating crash-lands, and she’s accused of killing everyone on board. It’s hard for Jax to defend herself: she has no memory of the crash.
Now imprisoned and the subject of a ruthless interrogation, Jax is on the verge of madness. Then a mysterious man breaks into her cell, offering her freedom—for a price. March needs Jax to help his small band of rogue fighters break the Corp monopoly on interstellar travel—and establish a new breed of jumper.
Jax is only good at one thing—Grimspace—and it will eventually kill her. So she may as well have some fun in the meantime…
To start this review I have to offer a caveat. This book is written in first person point of view and in present tense. In a lifetime of reading voraciously, I can count with one hand the number of books narrated in first person that I’ve liked—with fingers left over. And the idea of present tense throughout the full 300+ pages? Ack!
I kept thinking it was going to be nigh impossible for me to finish the book, let alone like it.
Then I read an excerpt, and was intrigued. I told myself, “This doesn’t seem too annoying (which has been my chief complaint on first person narrative), it shouldn’t be too hard to give it a fair try.”
And then I got the book, and we were off to the races. I read this book in one sitting, while suffering the mother of all headaches; that’s just how gripping the story is. Of course, I had to read it again once I felt better—I had to make sure it wasn’t painkiller induced hallucination, you know. And I’m very very happy to say it wasn’t. This book rocks.
Fans of Firefly and Serenity will find a few familiar plot devices: a ragtag crew traveling in a rundown spaceship, trying to outrun the bad guys to do some good. The gifted girl, the heroic captain, the talented medic, heck! there’s even the intrepid female ship mechanic! There’s a conspiracy and pretty much nothing is what it seems. There are narrow escapes, and life and death situations.
It’s not the novelty that grabs you when reading this book (after all, it’s not as if Joss Whedon, as much as I love him, had come up with any of these himself). It’s the execution. The plotting, the pacing, the characterizations, the world building—they are all first rate, and all come together to create a compelling story that grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let you go until the very last word. And even then, you want more.
The main characters are extremely well realized.
Jax is not the most likable person you’ve ever met, but she is a real person. More, she is self aware enough to allow the reader to follow her growth through the book without annoying the ever loving daylights out of you. When we meet her, her world (in the sense of awareness of things and people around her) is so very small that she doesn’t even realize how skewed her perspective is. As a result of this emotional isolation, her initial interactions with March and his crew are more than a bit antagonistic in nature.
Her reactions and rationalizations during and after various do-or-die episodes ring true to the end—there is no magic change from flawed to perfect, but rather as the story unfolds, there’s a series of changes and self-discoveries leading to a better self. Jax is still Jax, to the last page. She’s only a more mature woman. It is particularly interesting to see, through her own eyes, how her perspective on her circumstances, her life, and those around her, change as events unfold. Even more interesting is to see her react without thinking in ways that, occasionally, contradict who she has always believed herself to be.
March, the captain (and eventually her love interest) is complex in a way that few heroes are, with both a unique gift and a dark past which color who he is and what he does. His sense of honor and his ultimate goal are, again, not standard hero issue, and his is no selfless “let’s save the universe and improve the quality of life for every poor sod alive, out of the goodness of our hearts!” mission. He is in this for his own reasons, which he doesn’t feel the need to advertise. As far as he’s concerned, any general good to come out of it is a nice side benefit but most definitely not a requirement. All of this doesn’t make him any less likable or appealing, but it humanizes him for the reader.
As far as the secondary characters (Dina, Saul, Loras, Mair, Adele, Velith, etc) are concerned, Aguirre brings them to life for the reader with a few broad strokes, and lets their successive interactions with Jax fill in the details. Perhaps the most surprising of these is Velith—bounty hunter and antagonist, and quite the surprising character, to say the least.
The world building is careful and consistent—which is extremely important for this reader. Nothing will yank me out of a story faster than an author who writes him/herself into a corner and then pulls a Deus Ex Machina to solve the situation. Instead, Aguirre uses the rules she’s set up, both as part of the crisis and the solutions. The dangers are real, and survival is by no means guaranteed. The science is neither explained to within an inch of its metaphoric life, nor is it left vague enough as to qualify as magic.
Through out the novel, the reader knows only what Jax knows. We see the action and her world through her eyes. For this reason, there are several important facets of the universe that turn out to be different than what she originally thought they were. This change in perspective also changes the stakes for her, and for the reader.
This one is a solid 8.5 for me.
If you are still not sure, go read the excerpt here. I promise you’ll be hooked. And the best news is that there’s already a sequel—Wanderlust, coming out in September *happy dance*